I’m at the beach, sitting on my towel six feet away from other people, when I see her. She looks to be in her early forties — I can tell by the delicate lines on her face — but her body is that of a twenty-year-old, only better. She’s wearing a floral pink bikini and the skin in between the top and bottom is nothing but tanned, rock-hard abs. Her hair falls to her muscled, yet feminine shoulders in blond, beachy waves. I experience a powerful stab of jealousy — it’s a tightness in my chest — and I look away, waiting for the feeling to pass.
That desire for a skinnier, “better” body, like that of the woman on the beach, is pervasive and toxic. I watch what I eat and exercise, but it would take a truckload of kale and endless sit-ups to sculpt my abs into anything approaching hers. I watch my carbs and tell anyone who asks why that I don’t want to get diabetes, but to be honest, I don’t want to get fat and would prefer to be thinner than I am now. When I think about this desire logically, it makes no sense. If I snapped my fingers and suddenly had six-pack abs, literally nothing in my life would change. My children would not all of a sudden start listening to me, if the attention my husband pays to my haircuts is any indication, he would not even notice, and that modeling contract would still not come through. But that desire, programmed through years of seeing stick-thin movie actresses, super-fit models splashed all over magazines, and one diet program after another in the cabinets of my own house growing up (nutri-system, Jenny Craig, diet pills that were probably speed, and many more) and hearing endless comments from older family members (“She really let herself go!” or “Look how thin she is, she looks great!”) means that the wish to be thin(ner) is deeply embedded in my psyche.
Corona has seemed like the perfect opportunity, in many ways, to let go. Let go of watching what we eat, working out, wearing real clothes, and worrying about our appearances. In the early days, my gym shut down, which provided a convenient excuse to stop exercising. I kept walking because the more time I spent outside, the better my mood. I walked the dog, walked to work, and walked the kids around the block on scooters and skateboards. Food, however, was another story. Previous “treat” items were now consumed on a daily or hourly basis (mainly Hershey’s kisses). I joined millions of other people and baked away my anxiety. Did you know that you can make chocolate cake in a bread machine? Well, let me be the first to tell you that you can, and it’s delicious. That hard-working bread machine poured forth coconut milk bread, pizza dough, and banana bread. Luckily, we had plenty of yeast on hand prior to the shortages, and I put it to good use. And all those carbs really did improve my mood during a few difficult weeks.
Did I gain weight, you ask? I don’t know! The kids were fooling around one day and broke the scale. And I haven’t exactly been wearing “real pants,” which might provide a clue. And even if I had, who cares, right? We could all die of Coronavirus next month! I might as well die happy with chocolate cake stuffed in my face. The coroner is not going to care if I’m carting around a few extra pounds. But sometime in the last couple of weeks, I started feeling some pain in my feet. This is ridiculous for someone who hasn’t even turned forty, but I think it’s my bunions flaring up. I had suffered from them during my last pregnancy. I turned to my trusty medical guide, Dr. Google, for answers. The number one reason for bunions is pointy shoes. I don’t wear pointy shoes under normal circumstances, let alone during a pandemic, so that couldn’t be it. The number two reason: weight gain. Hmmm.
That jealousy at seeing a woman with a “better” body may never fully go away, but it’s cruel that just when I had started to let go of some of the expectations for my weight and appearance, I now may have an actual medical need to cut back on the chocolate and carbs. I don’t know what to say about this except a few choice words that are unprintable.
About the Author
Simone de Muñoz writes dystopian, or perhaps utopian, fiction, depending on your perspective, where women drive the story and sometimes even run the world. She holds a master’s degree in public policy from UC Berkeley and a bachelor’s degree in economics from MIT, which she uses in her day job as a data analyst at a nonprofit. Based in Silicon Valley, she lives with her patient husband, their two young sons, and a grumpy dog named Fish. Manflu, her debut novel, is out on March 26th.